One strategy adopted by some environmentalists is to try to win over moderate conservative voters to favour climate action by separating it from other social issues and choosing policy instruments which they expect to appeal to conservatives as well, like carbon taxes or cap-and-dividend. Often, the emphasis is on revenue neutral carbon prices, where the revenue is offset by reducing other taxes, rather than spent on additional climate change mitigation efforts or social priorities.
Notably, this is the strategy of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) and climatologist James Hansen.
This week’s episode of The Energy Gang podcast includes a very interesting discussion of a proposed carbon tax on the ballot in Washington State. The logic behind it has explicitly been to forge post-partisan consensus instead of a left-wing coalition. Apparently, it has been rejected by mainstream environmental groups, in part because they don’t think such a coalition can succeed in getting it passed (or perhaps avoid having it gutted by state legislatures when they would be able to amend it in two years). The panel on the podcast call the issue “a civil war within the environmental left”.
They discuss this potential carbon tax in the context of overcoming Republican intransigence in the face of any effective climate change policy, explicitly considering the logic of teasing climate change out as an independent issue and presenting policy solutions that don’t seek to simultaneously advance other agendas.
At least on panelist emphasized the core logic behind cap-and-dividend as a failure in terms of political saleability (which is meant to be its strongest virtue). He claims that nobody likes revenue neutrality – it seems pointless to collect a tax and then refund it somehow. Also, this approach puts the ‘tax’ element forward. He argues that it would be much more effective to spend the revenues promoting a transition to a low-carbon economy, lead the political messaging by emphasizing how we’re investing in climate safe energy, and then put the tax at the back end as an explanation for how it will be paid for.
I would be interested in seeing Hansen and/or the CCL’s responses to this.